Michelangelo Pistoletto (the name itself is a piece of art) created this Venus of the Rags in 1967, when Picasso and Rothko were still very much alive, with Rauschenberg’s Combines, an innovative mix of real-life objects and artistic media, presented to the public ten years before that. Andy Warhol had already put his Brillo boxes in gallery space. That was the time of innovation, when artists where searching for new ways to make Art relevant to people. It was a bold search for themes, media and materials with which to make Art of the new, post-postmodernism age.
99,999% of the stuff created at the time found its end at garbage bins scattered across the globe. But some works remained in the art history because they deserved it.
Look at this Venus, currently at Tate Modern UK. Imagine yourself walking around it. And then we’ll think why it is worth a place at one of the most prestigious galleries in the world.
Well, as you can guess from the title to this post, this is one of my favourite interpretations of the installation’s meaning, a practical feminine take-out. What is suprising, is that it is – metaphorically – true in a much broader sense, and we we will see why in a few paragraphs.
To understand its meaning, as with any other work of art, we need first to look closely.
What do you see there, in terms of objects, shapes, colors, shapes, lines, forms and their relationship to each other?
a) a shapeless pile of clothes. A rainbow of washed-out clothes implying most are second-hand or used. A even closer look reveals none of the items if free “from the embrace” of some other item. Nothing is just lying on top. Everything is intertwined. Clothes in the pile seem to be defending each other, protecting their “pileness”, togetherness, value.
b) the off-white sculpture of a naked woman of very ordinary proportions. Her hairdress, the pose and the cloth she is carrying imply at her Classic origins. She won’t be the beauty queen nowadays, but our education whispers into our ears, “look, it must be a Greek Aphrodite or Roman Venus”.
And indeed it is, a Venus by a 19th-century Danish scluptor multiplied in cheap materials to decorate gardents of middle-class citizens a century later.
Venus is…hesitating or loitering in front of the pile. Well, the pile – as we have established – tries to protect itself against her possible meddling in its affair, but Venus also does not seem to be very keen to get involved. Yet, she must, for she’s naked. And thus, there’s a pause which allows us to hear the dialogue the artist wanted us to listen to.
Aesthetic dialogue between materials:
- The beauty of the classic Venera’s shape against the shapeless ugliness of used rags.
- The rigidity of Venera’s “marble” against the softness of the pile of rags
- Venera’s lack of colour against the rainbow of the pile
Ideologic dialogue on values (that’s the important part), because this is a dispute of cultures.
- Classic view on beauty vs. Modern worship of material stuff
- Humanistic view on the value of Man (well, Woman) naked, unemcumbered by assets vs. Moden view on the same value which is calculated via the total sum of assets that Man (or Woman) possesses.
Michelangelo Pistoletto does not impose his view on the viewer (and very few contemporary artists are so considerate of the spectator). He is not telling us who is right and who is wrong. He offers us to think for ourselves.
Many are reminded that – even though this world is largely material – it is never late to reject the glamour of Vogue or Harpers Bazaar. I am fortunate to know some people who are not rich or even wealthy but are very happy.
And this brings me back to the title of this post, for the feeling of “nothing to put on” in front of a bursting wardrobe can be seen as a metaphor for unhappiness in a perfectly material world.
Pray tell me of your view on this Venus. Do you see something else? Or different?